CSL Circle Games (A Retrospective)

Author’s note: While Bill and I are no longer together, his presence in this story was writer’s tool (he was a great editor too!) to share some wonderful memories and feelings about Camp Seneca Lake that are timeless. The sentiments shared in this story endure onward.

June 5, 2013

My boyfriend, Bill, and I had a free moment while visiting friends on Seneca Lake; on impulse, I looked in my contacts list and dialed a familiar number, 315 536 9981. John Golden had always said, “Just call and you can stop by any time to visit.” True to his word, he said we could visit the camp.

I started getting excited. “You’ll see this place is really special. My entire family, multiple generations have been here. My aunt Marilyn met her husband Robert Sanow when she worked in the kitchen and he was the Athletic Director. My dad (Howard Reitkopp) was there too.”

Bill seemed doubtful. He’d never done camp other than Boy Scouts. (I think that’s why he still hates camping.) But he was willing to let me show him my special place, a place of song, belonging, and something I shared with my entire family.

“It’s there. See it, the sign, that’s new! That one’s much easier to see. When I used to come here, it was just a little green sign that you might overlook,” I said. “Slow down, yes, turn here.”

He smiled as I had a conversation with myself. He could see my anticipation and he was curious because I spoke of CSL as my safe haven, a place I hadn’t attended since my CIT year in 1979. When Bill maneuvered our little car onto the camp’s gravel dirt road, we instantly rolled our windows up. I laughed out loud.

“If we were on the bus to camp, we’d leave the windows open, not minding the dust. We’d be singing at the top of our lungs!” I said. “We’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here, because WE’RE HERE!”

First bonding took place on that bus. My parents used to road trip from Maryland to Rochester to stay with my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Richie the days before camp started. Then they would drop my brother Jon, sister Caryn, and I with our first cousins, Sarah, Caroline, and Liz, at the JCC for the bus to CSL. Taking the bus was a must; getting dropped at camp just would have been wrong. I would cry when I left my parents and cry when I left camp, missing my “family” on both ends.

When my oldest kids, Phillip and Hillary, did the pilgrimage for the first time in 2000, we also lived in Maryland. By that time, it wasn’t as strange to have kids from other states. Multiple generations of families still sent their kids to CSL, but now from all over the US and even other countries. We did things slightly different from my parents. They didn’t come up for Visitor’s Day, but I valued it beyond measure. It was a chance to walk around the place that meant so much to me. I wanted to reminisce once again at the fire circle, to imagine the arms around each other’s shoulders, warm from the bodies pressed against each other, feeling connected to people, as the guitar was strummed and our voices rose in unison.

Our decision was to put the kids on an airplane and they would be picked up by my aunt and uncle on the other end. After an overnight, Nancy and Richard would put them on a similar yellow school bus at the JCC for the ride to 200 Camp Road.

Both Philip and Hillary loved the experience. So much so that they pilfered a song book at summer’s end and sang camp songs in the back seat of the car for weeks after their return. I think I surprised them when I joined in on the singing, albeit with my atonal voice. Many of their songs had been mine. Many of the people in their new songs were people I knew when I went to camp. Singing was a common theme at camp, like hugging and friendship. It also crossed over the generations.

I came back to the present when Bill parked our car on the grass in front of the office. From the outside, things didn’t seem to have changed much. We started to walk, hand in hand towards the flagpole. I noticed someone in the Arts and Crafts barn; when she saw me, she waved. We decided to walk up and say hello because you never know who might be here. As I got closer, I recognized Jilly Lasser Lederman.

“You’re Phillip’s mom, right?” she asked, smiling. “I thought I recognized you.”

“Yeah, I’m Phillip’s mom,” I said.

We chatted for a few minutes about the camp. I remembered that she was at camp with my sister or some of my cousins. She talked about the wonderful new arts projects that the campers were doing.

“You know it’s funny you are here,” she said. “I was just cleaning out my desk and came across something I think you might want to have. Can you wait a moment?”

I looked at Bill and he shrugged, “Sure,” I responded.

She re-emerged after a few minutes, brandishing a heavy mug. “Phillip made this but didn’t finish painting it. It was so nice I couldn’t bear to throw it away, could you get it to him or keep it for him?”
It was so touching that someone from my generation who knew my son, cared enough to do such a kindness.

“Are you sure you can give it up? I would love to have it,” I said.

“Definitely,” she said. I hugged her, thanked her for her kindness, and Bill and I headed back the way we started.

I saw the singing benches out of the corner of my eye, and then I saw the plaque at the flagpole that was dedicated to Mike Nozik. I knew it was going to be there, but it still moved me more than I expected. Bill was surprised to see my tears.

“Mike was such a great guy. He loved it here. That’s why they honored him,” I told him as I wiped my eyes.

“His kids go here now,” I continued with a tremor in my voice.

Bill gave me a big hug and we paused a little longer before going to the dining hall. The outside was unchanged, the red paint and the screened windows. As we mounted the steps, I took a deep breath. Even though it was empty and (relatively) quiet, in my mind I heard the clamor as the kids waited to be let in. Bill and I walked into the dining hall. I stopped in the entrance for Bill to take in the benched tables and the array of plaques lining the beams of the ceiling.

“Those are the plaques that have been painted by different bunks of kids each year, honoring their trips,” I took his hand, pulling him, “C’mon, let me show you!”

We found my Cousin Hyla Reitkopp’s name on an old Onondaga sign from 1964. My brother, my sister, and my names were on various painted pieces of ply board, showing trips to the Montreal, the Adirondacks, Maine, etc., Then we found Phillip and Hillary’s senior camper years, brighter, more creative, and lots more kids names listed on each one. All those generations of kids, the kindness and warmth of camp staff like Jilly and Mike, all of us linked together through a wonderful, shared experience.

We made our way down to the waterfront. The flat shale rocks littered the beach. Several more boats were tied to the shore and the metal dock had replaced the old wooden one. I showed Bill how we used to skip rocks off the shore and the fire circle. We could have headed up to Mohawk (Cayuga in my day). There we would have seen my brother’s name, with Phillip’s name signed next to it years later. We would have seen other new and interesting changes. But the important things didn’t change.
I sighed. “Well, I’m not going to make you hike out to Tusc this time.”

“Thank god,” he teased me.

“Do you get it now?” I asked him. “Why generation after generation feels that magic this place has? I mean it’s not just me who feels it. My siblings, my cousins, my kids, we all do.”
Reitkopp Kids at CSL circa 1970s (see link for photo)

That feeling was why I wanted my youngest, Shane, to go to CSL. He went for the first time last year on the same flight route as Phillip and Hillary, with his cousin Hudson (Jon’s son). When they landed, they met my cousin Liz (Reitkopp) Young and her husband, Darin. The next morning, three little boys, Shane, Hudson, and Liz’s son Zach, hopped on the yellow school bus bound for Camp Road. In their first camp experience, they learned the joy of bug juice, dining hall chants, cold nights around the campfire, and the warmth of CSL with special friends. Technology played a larger role in their experience, or, at least, it played a bigger role for parents. Now there are photos online, email options for mail. Even the songbook is now online.

Shane’s coming back to camp this year, as is his older sister, Hillary, who will be a counselor like her big brother Phillip. It’s different than being a camper. Harder work, less time to play. But her little brother will be there and they will get to share the experience together. Me? I can’t wait for Visitor’s Day. I will get to see my youngest son and my daughter, see the camp I love, and will even see many of my old camp friends because they, too, are sending their kids to camp. (In fact, many will be in Hillary’s bunk.)

On that visit that Bill and I made last year, I kept trying to explain what made CSL special. Despite my best efforts, I don’t think he understood because at its core, CSL isn’t something that can be understood, only felt. For those who’ve gone there, it stops being a spot on the map, filled with peeling paint and poison ivy. Instead, it occupies a corner of your being, where you had your first kiss, made terrible pottery projects, met friends from far away, and connected with relatives you never knew you had. My greatest hope is that my children’s children, their children, and every generation afterwards, can experience the same loving, caring, warm environment that meant so much to me and my family.


Marilyn Reitkopp Sanow (1940-KG) (at CSL met and married Robert Sanow-Athletic Director)
Howard Reitkopp (camper-1952)
Hyla Reitkopp (1964)
David Sanow, Susan Sanow Kaplan (camper & staff) (1970s)
Ron Spingarn (1970s)
Melissa(camper & CIT), Jon, Caryn(camper & staff) Reitkopp (1970s-1980s)
Elizabeth (Young-camper&staff), Caroline (Landgraff-camper & staff), & Sarah Reitkopp, (19 70s-80s)
Phillip (camper & staff) & Hillary (camper & staff) Goldman (2000-2010s)
Shane Schwartz, Hudson Reitkopp, Zach & Vivi Young (2012-onward)
Alex Kaplan (camper 2006-2012, CSL in Israel 2013)

Melissa Reitkopp (edited by Bill Bridges, title by Hillary Goldman)


Inspiration for the Big 5-0, a short story

Out of context, anything can be misconstrued or undervalued. Last year the Bethesda Magazine, once again had their annual short story contest for both fiction and non fiction. I’ve said I wanted to enter something through the years and it was a week to the deadline. O.K., I told myself, this is the year you are going to do this. Each year the contest is held and you can write on any theme but cannot exceed 4000 words. One of the major suggestions was to try and not make the story trite. You are saying, “duh”, right about now. Easier said than done.

Sometimes there’s a story dying to get out of me and down on paper. Other times an incident, a random event, or a prompt, helps me get started. After participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for several years and following up with a course at The Writer’s Center, I’ve tried to continue writing by practicing it in many forms. The short story was never a favorite. Setting limitations-was an invitation to break the rules. If I didn’t want to be disqualified, I push myself to do both.

Aging brings all sorts events and really changes your view of life. For some reason my upcoming colonoscopy loomed on the horizon. A friend had been diagnosed with colon cancer, so this event had more punch. I took the two ideas and looked at what life was like for a 50 year old divorced woman, and The Big 5-0 was born. Originally, the story was called, “A Colonoscopy Story” (recognize the take off on A Christmas Story?) My friend who suggested it and I, thought it was funny, but the editors didn’t get my humor.

I didn’t win that contest for the story that came in barely under 4000 words. My good friend Ronna was kind enough to edit (really well) that first version. Later after the contest results were out and my name didn’t make the short list, I shared the story with my editor. They liked it, but wanted th tale expanded. The version in front of you is the expanded story. It’s not earth shaking. It won’t change your world. It’s just a sweet little story with a bit of humor. I hope you enjoy reading it, because I enjoyed writing it.



Remember It’s Just a Game…

Remember It's Just a Game...

I wonder if adults ever pause to think what their kids were thinking in the heat of a particular moment. Especially close to my heart are those youth sport moments, when the adults are all hot and bothered. The conversations might differ widely depending on which self-anointed soccer wonk is speaking. If the parents could hear what their kids were thinking, would they be convinced to change their ways?

Imagine, the whistle blowing, the referee, who is two feet taller than any kid out there, stops the game and calls the coach over. The parents gather in bunches, the players gather in bunches.

“I’m not sure the coach has the right seven out there,” commented the trim athletic looking dad in a well-modulated voice.

“That is a concern, but is he instructing the center striker to stay high?” said an equally calm voice of a tall dad wearing Adidas striped soccer shorts and matching shoes.

“If he would get them to keep their shape better, that wouldn’t matter as much,” noted the mom with her Dri fit top and DC United hat.

Meanwhile the players on the field seem to form into two natural groups based on proximity, the defense and the offense. The offense has gathered since the Ref stopped the game.

A player says, “Look at my dad in his coaching gear, he’s probably telling the other dad all the fine details of the game, already dissecting me play by play.” He nervously glances over at his dad.

The whole team knows that being the son of a true soccer aficionado is a huge burden and their buddy constantly looks to his dad after he makes a play, to see if his dad approved or not.

One of the players tries to make his friend feel better, “Well at least he’s paying attention, my mom is chatting away in her chair, and she could be anywhere and she doesn’t even get the rules.” The others laugh.

Coach and the referee are discussing something heatedly but eventually the game is allowed to restart.

After some play, a defender clears the ball from the back and it goes over the fence down a hill. While the clock is paused other parents continue the adult dialog.

With no action to comment on, our loudest Dad seems to calm. He’s still pacing the sideline, where moments ago he had been yelling what he thought were good suggestions, “Pass, Get Back, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!”

Another pretty animated dad walks over to him during the break in play, “Did you see that last one, if only the ball had been crossed!”

They commiserate about if only, a third dad joins the group crackling with restrained energy, “Darn if he had a left foot and took the shot sooner, we would be up 2-0 by now!

Parents with less soccer knowledge or more, seem to naturally move to avoid this group of avid vocalists.

Out on the field the defenders have their own chat.

“Oh my god if that dad doesn’t stop telling everyone what to do, it’s going to make me crazy!”

“I know he gets me so nervous, last time I tried to clear the ball I almost missed it cause he was so loud.”

“Can you imagine how much it would suck to have your dad or mom yelling at you the whole time?”

“Yeah, well now you know why his son bites his nails, when he plays. “

“I try to shut it out, but it’s hard to even hear Coach.”

The whistle brought everyone back to the game as the retrieved ball is thrown back into play. Then it’s half time. Coach talks to the players as the parents’ eye them nervously from the other side of the field. League rules, players and coaches on one side, parents on the other. It’s supposed to provide some cushion from each from the other.

The players break from sucking down water and eating as many orange sections as possible. Sweaty, sticky now, they ready themselves for 30 more minutes of soccer. The Referee checks with the keeper to see if he’s ready, he waves his hand to say yes. The whistle blows for the second half to begin and it’s a tight game, 1-0.
Ball is in play but that doesn’t mean the chatter stops. Not all of it is about the game.

“OMG, did you see that big brute of a kid, he’s been elbowing my son all game,” said a dad indignant from his chair.

“Wish this referee would call the game better, he’s been hitting all the players,” added a mom from her arm chair position.

“Look at that, he just stole the ball and knocked my son to the ground, that’s not soccer!” another dad chimes in, as he paused mid-sentence about an unrelated topic.

Someone is down, and the parents all pause from what they are doing. Some teams take a knee but our coach thinks we should gather and use the time to talk about what’s going on out there. One huddle of players definitely uses their time to talk about soccer.

“I would so rather play games than go to practice.”

“Wouldn’t we all?!”

“Well your dad doesn’t make you practice on days when we have off, I bet!”

“Nah, I hate practicing, but if I don’t do something different before tryouts I may not make the team, I’m worried.”

“Coach says everyone makes the team, or at least a team, you could move down, that’s true.”

“They do watch everything, the other day at practice, Coach made fun of me wearing sneakers instead of cleats.”

The game is finally over, it was a win, close but still a win. The kids gather with their coach, he’s got some comments to make about the game. Some of the more aggressive parents are already closing in, inching forward to try and hear what the coach has to say. Some of the parents wait respectfully at the end of the field for their sons to make their way over to them. It’s a good day, there are smiles, relief, a big “W” can do that to anyone. They make their way to the cars.

The conversations are not over, it’s not just a game, this is serious soccer, travel, often games are over an hour away, at the age of 9. Some of the parents have started in on their review of the game, kids practiced at tuning out the yellers during the game, nod at the appropriate times. Stragglers, there are always the slow ones, follow their parents towards the vehicles. Makes one wonder, is there a proper way to parent and support young athletes? Are some of the approaches better or worse or just different? What irks kids versus what irks parents could be two different things. The coach might have an entirely different view as well.

In the end youth sports are supposed to teach kids how to be active, disciplined, and compete in a healthy way. Lessons from sports about training, winning and losing and how to be a good sport, are all important in everyday life. Have we forgotten these valuable goals and how to help our kids learn them? A nation of hovering helicopter parents isn’t going to build a cohort of kids who trust themselves to make decisions. They are our next generation who will lead us, that’s not the kind of leaders I had in mind.

I say, “Let the kids play!” “Let the parents watch, and refrain from comment!”



I’m fifty this year, and I have a black eye. No, my boyfriend Bill didn’t slap me around. My dog, who I was securing to a post, did see another dog. She decided to say hello to said dog, and took the post with her. On her way, the post had serious contact with my face. Fifty and I have bruises on my shins from soccer. Half a century old, and my nails are jagged from wall climbing at the gym. I’m a fifty year old mother of three, who the day after yoga climbs out of bed, just a little bit slowly because I’m sore. I still wake up without an alarm clock and it’s never the same time, probably because I never go to bed at a specific hour.

Some days, it’s from exhaustion at 9pm right after I put my nine year old to sleep. Some days, my mind won’t shut down and I sit and journal till my hand cramps or my eyes droop shut. Some days, I get distracted, and stop at my computer to look at a school project, my board fundraising event, a soccer team management issue, or, I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes it’s just regular work. If Bill can’t be there curled up in bed with me, a good night call is the next best thing to close my day.

I am slowing down, it may not seem like it, but I do say no, a bit more often. My older children say they don’t notice, but I do. I’ve come to realize it’s not being busy that matters, but what I am doing and whom I am doing it with, that matters most. Keeping my perspective on life is about balance, I’m working towards it, but I’m not perfect, yet.

Taking things day by day, moment by moment, is the first step. It’s easier now that there’s only one child left at home. Or maybe it’s because I have become wiser or more relaxed. Yesterday, after climbing at the gym with Shane, we came home bushed. It was our last day of Spring Break. We decided, instead of making a full-fledged meal, we would to take the easy route. Opened the refrigerator door wide, looked inside, and started pulling out stuff to hand to my son. First; a slice of pizza wrapped in foil, next a Tupperware of grilled chicken, some bacon from breakfast, finally fresh spinach and carrots. It was a mish mash of food.

We decided to treat ourselves to “dinner and a movie” in the rec room. Normally, we eat in the kitchen, at the counter, sans distractions. Having warmed, assembled and plated our leftovers, we grabbed drinks and headed for the basement. We flipped through the options and rather quickly agreed to watch the Rise of the Guardians. I have no idea what rating Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie, we normally check, but decided to wing it. Living on the edge, it was daring. In between, eating, doing a load of laundry, (I still couldn’t totally let go and be irresponsible) we snuggled, Shane, Madison (the boxer who blackened my eye) and I. We laughed, we were moved, I mean after all it’s a kid’s movie, there have to be educational moments. Didn’t matter that dinner wasn’t perfect, and at 50, I’m not either.

Cyberspace Kate

Cyberspace Kate

April first came and went. Had a fleeting thought that this was the day to play a good trick, but nothing materialized. Way back when, my kids used to be good at playing very complex jokes on family. My own underdeveloped sense of humor though, often prevented me from coming up with ideas. Yesterday, my boyfriend, on Gchat, mentioned that he was sent a link to a Sports illustrated contest. He was all excited and went to complete the online form. The prize was being a participant in the body painting of super model, Kate Upton. Every red blooded male’s wet dream. He hurriedly completed the form and clicked on the SUBMIT button. Instead of the disclaimer letter of, “We have received your entry and you will be notified by April 30th, 2013,”popping up on his laptop, “APRIL FOOLS” filled his computer screen. I may not have enough of a sense of humor to create a great gag, but I LMAO.

Do you have a recollection of joke that was played on you or that you played on someone else that was really the bomb? Do share!